There's a lot of news coverage today coming from the Supreme Court. A Texas death penalty case, Trevino v. Thaler was argued at the Court, yesterday, along with a non-capital case involving a missed filing deadline; the Court has accepted a death penalty case from Kansas, to be argued in the next term; and, there is widespread coverage of criticism of a prosecutor's words from Justice Sotomayor, a former prosecutor, herself.
I'm going to break these into several posts. Let's begin with the Texas case, Trevino v. Thaler; that link will take you to the SCOTUSblog case file, with all briefing in the case. You can also read the oral arguments transcript in Adobe .pdf format.
The Trevino case has not received much press attention, perhaps because of its limited scope. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in Martinez v. Ryan, that prisoners who have compelling claims of ineffective
assistance of trial counsel can have those claims heard even if an
ineffective state habeas lawyer's failure to raise those claims would
have otherwise barred them from being heard in federal court.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, however, later ruled that Martinez does not apply to Texas, in the case of Ibarra v. Thaler, thereby preventing prisoners from the country's most active death penalty state from having access to Martinez's protections.
Earlier coverage of Carlos Trevino's case begins at the link; that will also get you to earlier coverage of Martinez v. Ryan.
Prior to yesterday's oral argument, SCOTUSblog posted the argument preview, "On the vagaries of post-conviction capital criminal procedure in Texas," written by Steve Vladeck.
The non-capital case heard yesterday involving a missed deadline is McQuiggin v. Perkins. The oral arguments transcript is at the link. Adam Liptak writes, "Justices Hear Arguments on Missed Deadline in Murder Case," for the New York Times.
Floyd Perkins, a Michigan man serving a life sentence for murder, says he has evidence proving his innocence and should be allowed to present it long after a one-year filing deadline has passed.
The Supreme Court has never resolved whether such deadlines may be waived when prisoners file federal habeas corpus challenges to state-court convictions based on evidence of innocence. Judging from the justices’ questions on Monday in Mr. Perkins’s case, their eventual decision is not likely to bring much additional clarity to the situation.
There was some support from the bench for the abstract proposition that deadlines ought not be too rigid. But there was less sympathy for Mr. Perkins himself.
Mr. Perkins was convicted based largely on the testimony of Damarr Jones, who said he saw Mr. Perkins stab a third man in the head in 1993 after the three of them left a house party in Flint, Mich. The third man, Rodney Henderson, was found dead on a wooded trail.
Mr. Perkins testified that he had parted from the other two men before the killing and later saw his accuser under a streetlight, bloody and agitated. The jury believed Mr. Jones.
Over the years, from behind bars, Mr. Perkins collected three sworn statements from people who said they had evidence that Mr. Jones was the actual killer. Their basic contention was that Mr. Jones had taken a bloody pair of orange pants to a dry cleaner the day after the killing.
Though Mr. Perkins obtained the last statement in 2002, he did not ask a federal judge to throw out his conviction until 2008. The judge refused, saying it had been filed too late and that, in any event, the statements were just an elaboration of a claim the jury had rejected — that Mr. Perkins “was being framed by the prosecution’s lead witness, who himself was responsible for the murder.”
The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, reversed the part of the ruling concerning the deadline and ordered the trial judge to take another look at the evidence.